Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Made the List!

(Image by Adrian N.:  The Battle of Heraclea, Enfilade 2010).

Stern Rake Studio is now listed in the Blogs of War, by Steve Blease.  This "blog of blogs" lists the links of over 940 sites, at the time of this post, devoted to various aspects of the wargaming hobby. 

Because of the unique nature of Steve's blog, I gave it distinct spot under the sidebar title Wargame Bloggers Index.  This way, viewers have a clearly defined index of other gaming blogs they can explore:

Wargamers have utilized the internet from the very beginning in various ways to enhance our favorite hobby:  From transmitting game turn moves via e-mail, coordinating gaming activities, writing table-top after-action reviews (AARs--with lots of pictures!), participating in on-line forums, to running entire campaigns in the realm of cyberspace.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Happy 10K!

I started this blog in October 2008 and this evening the Studio Views Counter just hit 10,000.

I'm honored that folks find this site interesting enough to spend some time here.

During the past 2 years, I've revamped, updated and tweeked this site to it's current form.  However, maintaining a blog is never static and I'll continue to improve the quality of this site, along with my YouTube movies and graphic novels.

In the meantime, I'd like to thank everyone for stopping by.  Your visits make this all worthwhile.

Happy Holidays!  And I hope 2011 is a fine and prosperous one for all of us!



"The Day the Music Died"

Yesterday, fans of Seattle's Smooth Jazz Station, KWJZ 98.9, received a shock:  The station now called "Click FM" changed its format and will no longer be playing jazz.  I've enjoyed listening to this station from the first night I tuned in to it 12 years ago this very month.

Sometimes, it's small events that make you say "WTF?" While this radio station's format change may not have any earth-shattering geo-political repurcussions, it is truly upsetting to long-time listeners.

When I first tuned in last night, I thought someone had their wires crossed, or there was some atmospheric disturbance causing my radio to receive a Portland radio station. (That's happened before). Then I went online, saw the notice on the website and received Carol Handley's newsletter in my e-mail account.

I discovered smooth jazz when I moved here 12 years ago. I was flipping through the stations and came across Diana Rose's lovely voice during one of her City Lights programs.

She certainly got my attention!

Then the music grew on me and I've loved jazz ever since.

I never thought I'd take a deactivation of a radio station so hard, but I'm really saddened to see KWJZ dissappear from the airwaves, because it introduced me to a new realm of music.

Text of Carol Handley's newsletter message:

To the KWJZ Family,

For 19 years 98.9 KWJZ has been presenting a mix of Smooth Jazz music for you, our very loyal music fans and radio listeners. It is with sadness that we inform you that this era for 98.9 FM has come to a close.

Technologies change and the new radio audience measurement is not favoring our once “ratings-strong” Smooth Jazz music format. I encourage you to continue to support the artists who make the music and the venues who bring them to the Northwest.

It is with huge gratitude on behalf of the entire KWJZ staff that we thank you for being here with us for these many years.


Carol Handley
Program Director

 The fans certainly are not happy.  The station's Facebook page is still up and running, while the complaints continue to pour in, (you must have a Facebook account to read the link):!/989KWJZ

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Stern Rake Studio Fan Page

I just announced a "public opening" of the Stern Rake Studio fan page on Facebook.  By doing this, I'm hoping to increase awareness of my work. Ever since reading Christina Katz's book, Get Known Before the Book Deal, I've been slowly developing my platform as a wargame graphic novelist and YouTube movie producer.  However, it was reading a blog post by Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone: The Writer's Guide to Social Media, that inspired me to develop the Facebook fan page.

According to Ms. Lamb, once 25 or more people become fans, by clicking on the "like" button, then Facebook will recognize me as the sole proprietor of Stern Rake Studio.

So please feel free to log on to Facebook and become a fan today.

Links to platform and social network savvy authors:

The first time I heard the term "platform," or a writer's expertise, was at a workshop hosted by Karen Burns during last year's PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) Summer Conference.

Karen Burns' website:

The pages of my copy of Get Known Before the Book Deal, is predominantly yellow because of all highlighted passages.

Christina Katz's website:

At this time, I haven't gotten around to purchasing Kristen's book, but if her blog posts are any indicator of her writing, then I'm looking forward to buying and reading it.

Kristen Lamb's website: 

Kristen Lamb's blog:

Friday, December 24, 2010

Oldie, but Goodie (and Freebie!)

For the past week, I've been working on game counters I downloaded from Dwarfstar Games.

Remember Dwarfstar Games

I do.  This company, produced several "micro games" in its short run between 1981--1982.  If I remember correctly, each game cost about $5--a great price for an unemployed teenager in the '80s.  Now, thanks to the internet and desktop publishing, the cost of these out-of-print games is even better.  That is, all but one of them are now free downloads: 

Click on the icon of the game for an overview, along with download instructions and links to PDFs.  Of the original eight titles, the only one not available is Dragon Rage, designed by Lewis Pulsipher.

During the original print releases, I managed to buy 3 games:  Goblin, Demonlord and Barbarian Prince.  Of these, I played Goblin and Demonlord with my brother and really enjoyed their simple and straightforward game mechanics.  I tried playing Barbarian Prince, but at the time, with all my gaming friends living close by, I wasn't at all interested in playing a solitaire game. 

Unfortunately these games became casualties of my frequent moves during my military career.  A couple of years ago, I came across the Dwarfstar website and downloaded all the available material.  Other gaming and writing projects have kept me busy, so I didn't get around to printing the rules and counters until recently.

I've always purchased boardgames with an eye for utilizing them as campaign systems, or scenario generators, for miniature battles and role-playing game (RPG) sessions.  So I'm a bit more forgiving of Dwarfstar's "hit & miss" editorial quality control.  My current plan then is to incorporate Star Viking, Star Smuggler and Grav Armor into my Star Wars: Redshift Campaign.

Now that I've been blogging and posting YouTube videos for two years now, I've finally developed an interest in playing solitaire games, especially since Barbarian Prince and Star Smuggler can be story generators for movies or graphic novels.   
So, stay tuned...

Wikipedia has a short entry on Dwarfstar's titles and authors:

Friday, December 17, 2010

21st YouTube Movie Posted--the Road to Heraclea

(Image:  Pyrrhus' campaign in southern Italy and Sicily)

Back in May, I managed to attend the last day of NHMGS (Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society) Enfilade 2010 Convention.  I lucked out and snagged a spot for the Warhammer Ancient Battles (WAB) game my friends Adrian and Dean were running.  Their scenario:  The Battle of Heraclea, 280 B.C.

I took over 200 photos of our battle, which will be the subject of my next movie.  While researching the background of this battle, I became fascinated by Pyrrhus' campaign in southern Italy, because I knew very little about it.  So I decided to making a "prequel" would be a good way to show how and why Rome and Epirus (northwestern Greece) came to blows.

Wikipedia provided a general overview of the campaign:

To illustrate the course of the events, I used the game Rise of the Roman Republic, by GMT Games. (Pyrrhus' campaign is one of the scenarios).

The Road to Heraclea--The Movie:

WAB, produced by Games Workshop (GW), is a popular rules set among miniature wargamers.  Jeff Jonas wrote a Heraclea scenario based on WAB, along with a short narrative of the historical battle, and posted it on his blog:

Richard Evers, another WAB enthusiast, used Jeff's scenario and played a game of his own.  His battle report can be read on his website:

What was the outcome of our battle?  Stay tuned to find out...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

PNWA Christmas Party 2010

Last night, I managed to get enough of my pre-Christmas chores done in order to attend the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writers Association) Christmas party.  The Holiday get-together was held at the newly opened Writer's Cottage in Issaquah.  I'm not sure what the head-count was, but I'm sure there was at least 30 people attending. 

The association brought in four of it's published authors to discuss their work, motivation and writing style; along with bringing a bunch of their books for members to purchase and have autographed. 

The first interview of the evening was with Elizabeth Boyle, (pictured above, center), an historical romance author.

Elizabeth's website:

Susan Wingate, (center, above), has written books in a variety of genres, such as: Literary fiction, noir mystery, memoir and short stories, just to name a few.

Susan's website:

Marcella Burnard, (above, center), a sci-fi romance author will have her second book, Enemy Games, published in May.   I purchased her debut novel, Enemy Within, which has some real kick-ass cover art:

Marcella's website:

Robert Dugoni, an author specializing in legal thrillers, encourages the audience to keep writing.  In the 3-4 years I've been attending PNWA's summer conferences, Bob has played master of ceremonies throughout each event.  In each workshop he provides an "I've been where you're at" perspective and gives 100% of himself back to the association he attributes as the key to his success.

Bob's website:

Jason Black is a book doctor.  That is, a type of freelance editor, assisting authors in making their works-in-progress (WIC) more marketable.

I'm currently taking a Popular Fiction class, taught by PNWA's president Pam Binder.  A couple of weeks ago, Jason was our guest speaker and talked about the finer points of the "show, don't tell" concept of writing.  (A more detailed post on this workshop will be uploaded soon).

Jason's website:

From the feedback I've been receiving so far, the party was a success and everyone enjoyed themselves.

"God bless us! Everyone!"

For more information on PNWA, check out the association's website:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Two-for-One Meal-Deal with Lisa Gardner

This year, PNWA managed to snag bestselling crime novelist Lisa Gardner as one of the dinner keynote speakers, for this year's summer conference.  Even better yet, they managed to convince her to hang around another day for the Lunch With Author session.

Between these gatherings, Ms. Gardner entertained attendees with stories of her less-than-smooth road to success.  She started off as a romance novelist while juggling a waitress job--and flaming saganaki (cheese).   Despite several fiery mishaps, Ms. Gardner managed to finish her first book, while avoiding visits to the burn treatment center and went on to become a managing consultant.  Thirteen romance novels later and loathing everything about the corporate grind, from commuting to pantyhose--especially the pantyhose--she sought a change and wrote her first suspense novel.

Her first thriller, The Perfect Husband, was the success she needed to quit her corporate job and throw out her pantyhose.  (I'm surprised she didn't ceremoniously douse her nylons with flaming saganaki).

Ms. Gardner is a funny and lively speaker, who engaged her audience with amusing anecdotes, like:

--Driving around Portland as a teenager with her best friend, interviewing prostitutes for her first novel.

--Dumping a carton of milk on her brother.  The same brother, later having to convince a date that all the romance novels in his place were written by his sister.

--Catching her husband watching porn.  But unlike most hapless husbands caught in such acts, the Luck O' the Irish was with him that day.  The movie turned out to be a German production of one of her books, where the heroine always ends up naked while fleeing the knife-wielding psychopath.

However, it wasn't all fun and games and German soft porn.  Ms. Gardner's keynote presentation focused on her top five reasons for being a writer.  Or, as she wrote me, "The top five reasons it is absolutely wonderful, amazing, rewarding, inspiring, exhilarating, and just plain fabulous to be a writer."

And they are:

1. It is okay to be cranky.

2. Anyone can do it.

3. It's a business that when one writer succeeds, all writers succeed.

4. Creativity is never wrong. 

5. And finally, one of the best reasons for being a writer is that you can come to conferences, such as this one, and finally meet people as neurotic as yourself.

(For us gamers and sci-fi fans, feel free to substitute "geeky" for "neurotic").

For more information on Lisa Gardner and her work, check out her website: 

(This link can also be found under the Authors tab).
For aspiring authors, check out her Writer's Toolbox page.  It is packed with her how-to articles and lecture notes.

She can also be found on-line among "the usual suspects" of Facebook, Myspace and Twitter.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Redshift Chronicles: The Origins of MARVIN and Other Odds & Ends

Notes on Figures:

When posting pictures and game reports it is important to list what company manufactures the figures used, or about to be used in the game.  This way, other interested players know where to find the same figures to use in their games.

At the time I posted News Brief #5, I didn't have any information on MARVIN's origin.  The droid will be a new character (PC) and the player informed earlier today the figure was made by Reaper:

Notes on Organizing Redshift Chronicles Post:

I've been blogging for just over two years now, but I must admit, I'm still getting use to operating here in cyberspace.  One of the comments made on a gaming website was my use of individual postings versus creating a thread.  I'm still trying to finesse that one, but what I did notice was how long the "SW Redshift Chronicles" thread on this blog was getting. 

For anyone who's read my Redshift posts since the beginning, this may not be a problem, but for someone just starting out, reading through my posts--in reverse order--can be a pain.  To help alleviate this, I've added a few more Labels to each of the entries in order to break it up into more readable chunks. 

I'll keep the Star Wars RPG Adventures and SW Redshift Campaign labels in order to provide an on-going narrative.  But for those not wishing to scroll through the entire cyber-tome, I've broken the campaign into the following categories:

SW Redshift Campaign News Briefs
SW Redshift Campaign Intelligence Briefs, and
SW Redshift Campaign GM Notes

In the future, I'll add a SW Redshift Campaign AARs category for any major confrontations that may occur.

I hope this reorganization is less annoying for the readers of this campaign.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Product Review: Flames of War

I finally finished reading through my copy of the Flames of War core rulebook, by Battlefront Miniatures LTD and boy, was I impressed!  The book is lavishly illustrated and contains plenty of examples of play, along with "summary toolbars," which provide a quick references to various rules.  This way, you don't have to mark-up this beautiful book with a highlighter and there are end-of-chapter summaries, along with a quick reference chart that can be photocopied.  Despite weighing-in at 256 pages, the rulebook is well written and quick to read, thanks to all the illustrations.

My experience so far in actually playing the game is one session as an observer.  I photographed an entire game during NHMGS's (Northwest Historical Gaming Society's) Enfilade 09 convention. Regardless of my lack of in-depth experience with "FoW," as it is abbreviated, the rules are easy to understand, especially since the game mechanics are similar to Warhammer and Warhammer 40K

Based on WYSIWYG ("What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get"), each vehicle represents a single vehicle, while a stand of several infantry, or cavalry figures represents a fire team or half-squad.  Each game turn is divided into 4 steps for each player in an "I-Go-You-Go" manner:  Start, Move, Shoot and Assault.  Movement can be based on inches or centimeters, with travel distance based on a unit's mobility category. 

Once a player moves his forces, then the shooting starts.  FoW uses a simple mechanic based on the target unit's training.  The basis for this is:  Well-trained units will take better advantage of the terrain than poorly trained ones.  So it's easier to hit a conscript unit than a trained unit, or a veteran unit.  However, even conscript units are harder to hit once they dig in.  To dig them out a player can assault enemy units within 2 inches/5 centimeters.  There are also rules covering artillery, air support, along with combat in urban and fortified areas.

But this is just the core rule book.  Battlefront Miniatures provides a plethora of supplemental material on the TO&E (Tables of Organization and Equipment) and historical information regarding the various campaigns.

Wikipedia has the run-down on both first and second editions:

I own several of these books and from scanning through them, they appear as well done as the core rulebook.

Regardless of the high quality of all this material, not every gamer is happy with this product.  First of all--these books are not cheap.  The core rulebook alone cost $50, while the supplements run anywhere from $25-45 each.  Fortunately, I was able to get some of them second-hand.  Otherwise, this is an expensive invetstment just for the printed material alone.

As I mentioned earlier, the game mechanics are similar to Warhammer (and not everyone is happy with this game system either), which means "buckets of dice" rolling.  For every unit in range of it's target, one or more six-sided die (d6) is rolled to see if any hits were scored.  Some units are specially trained that under certain circumstances they can re-roll a miss.  Once all the hits are finally determined, the target often gets a saving roll.  See what I mean about "buckets of dice?"

In addition to the rule book and printed supplements, Battlefront Miniatures also provides an entire line of 15mm figures for FoW.  Once assembled and painted, they look stunning.  However, once they're crammed onto the battlefield, the game table often looks like a miniature parking lot.  One remedy for this was discussed on The Miniatures Page and other gaming sites, is to use 6mm (1/285th, 1/300 or "micro" scale figures), but keep the same measurement distances.  This helps alleviate the parking-lot effect.  Investing in smaller figures is also easier on your wallet too!

Despite the downside mentioned in the last three paragraphs, FoW's ease of play and pro-active support by Battlefront Miniatures, makes this a very popular game among World War II miniature enthusiasts.  So I'm glad to give this rule system a solid 4.5 stars.
Additional (and free!) information and material can be found on the Flames of War website, making this a living rule-set:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

PNWA 2010 Conference Review: Crafting Fiction That Sells in Today's Market

While I don't have anything sell-able in a monetary sense, I think any writer that grabs a reader's attention has, in effect, "made a sale."  With this logic in mind, I attended the Crafting Fiction That Sells in Today's Market, hosted by Andrea Hurst.  A literary agent with over 25 years experience in the publishing business, Ms. Hurst is the president of Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management agency:

This workshop was conducted from an agent's POV (point of view) in order to help clue-in writers on what the market is looking for:

Because of today's market trends, in both technological improvements coupled with the economic downturn, Marketing and Sales Departments within publishing houses are more heavily involved in deciding what books get published.

Editors are only looking for stories that "fit into a box."  That is, genre fiction that can easily be categorized and therefore put on a bookstore's shelf.

One of the first things a literary agent asks themselves is:  Can I work with this author?  In other words--it doesn't pay to be a diva.

Everyone inside and outside the publishing company is pressed for time.  So query letters are now mostly done by e-mail, while books are getting smaller, word-count wise.  So don't pitch your book if its over 100k words and keep your synopsis to 1 page.

A catchy title is important, because it is the first thing the reader sees.  Once the reader picks up the book to examine it, the first line and the first page become all-important, because it is here that you gain or lose the reader.  After the initial page, it is important to keep the reader hooked so he or she will read through the first chapter.

And speaking of Chapter 1, avoid backstories and data-dumps.  Something has to happen early in the story that's really amazing.  Unfortunately, many first-time authors start the book in the wrong place.  So if it takes a long time to develop the action, then this is a good indicator that you started in the wrong place.

Since there's more to a book than an opening chapter, a story must have a middle and end that are plausible and satisfying.  These must be plotted out in some way, shape or form.  (There's an on-going debate over whether it is best to outline a story or not).  Most problems with a novel occur at this point--the "sagging middle."  An ending can be fixed, but because of the lengthy nature of a book's middle, a sagging one can be a big problem.  This can be alleviated by maintaining a high quality of writing, in order to keep the reader hooked.

And speaking of hooked, once you finish your work and are getting ready to pitch to an agent, you still have some homework ahead of you:

Before attending a conference log onto the agent's website--and read it all the way through.

Agents are amazed at how many would-be authors fail to do this, especially when being asked to represent them in genres they don't deal with.

In other words:  When all else fails--read the instructions.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Redshift Chronicles News Brief #5: Amabassadors, Entertainers & Droids

Stardate: Thirday, 039-130 ABY/Fringe Info Network (FIN)--Tarsus Bureau

Subsector: Shannekam

"All the news that's fit to transmit"

Tarsus Elects New Ambassador

Eleonora Heraud, was elected Ambassador to the Merantis Star Cluster by a landslide in yesterday's plebiscite. 

She captured the hearts of 78% of Tarsus' registered voters (21,196,500), while her contenders, Dorn Repness and Lirin Terrik, only managed to gain 14% (3,804,500) and 8% (2, 174,000) of the vote, respectively.

Pictured above:  Eleonora Heraud (center foreground) is escorted to the Directory Building for the swearing-in ceremony by Prime Commissioner Winthrop Coghill (left foreground) and Gwyn Norrocks (right, foreground), General of the Tarsan Defense Forces.  In the background are Babric Delorko (left), head of the Tarsan Intelligence Service and Callithea Lockridge (right), administrative assistant for the
Commission of Diplomatic Affairs (CODA).

Mrs. Heraud, will assume the responsibilities of her late husband, Fitzroy Heraud, who was killed in last month's Imperial-sponsored coup on Bongolaan.  However, she will have only a week planetside to become familiar with her duties.  After her in-processing, she is scheduled to attend a diplomatic conference on Merantis with representatives from the other member worlds of the star cluster.  While no agenda for the conference has been published, the most likely topic of discussion will be the Tarsan-Bongolaanian Trade Dispute, or as it is more commonly known as, the "Bantha-Gabaki Trade War."

Meanwhile, in entertainment news...

The Twi'lek celebrity, Shiri Blen, proved once again she can land on her feet.  Fleeing the Bongolaanian coup she arrived on Tarsus with nothing more than a worn skin-suit.  Or so everyone thought.  Apparently, she was able to access an unknown amount of her wealth, before it was seized or frozen by Imperial treasury agents.  With her new agent and business partner, Rensi Rabogo, a former Casmaanian councilman from Bongolaan.  Together, they purchased and renovated an old land speeder garage in Newland, turning it into a nightclub within a few weeks.

Shiri kicked-off the grand opening of Spazhouse Cafe & Bistro, with a brand new number, Twi'lek Dream.  Within hours the song skyrocketed to first place on Tarsus and will most likely reach number one within the Merantis Star Cluster by the end of the day. 

(Twi'lek Dream was inspired by Teenage Dream, sung by Katie Perry).

And now a word from our sponsor...

Introducing the entirely new and upgraded Mobile Android Recovery Vehicle Improved Negotiator (M.A.R.V.I.N). Here at the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation we are pleased to offer MARVIN with the new prototype GPP (Genuine People Personalities). As we like to say at Sirius “Your Plastic Pal Who’s Fun to Be With."  In addition, this Type-1 droid has the most sought-after skills and abilities in the galaxy. With a memory capacity as big as a planet there’s no end to the number of tasks that you can delegate to MARVIN.

From the Science and Technology Department:

A prototype MARVIN was purchased five months ago by the Tarsan Defense Forces and assigned to the 1st Battalion/3rd Lift Infantry Regiment as an infantry support droid.  After a 6-month evaluation phase, the plan was to purchase an additional 72 MARVIN droids, assigning one to each platoon, along with an additional droid assigned to company, battalion and regimental headquarters. 

One month before the evaluation phase was to end, the Tarsan Defense Force Public Relations Office (PRO) announced that it was no longer pursuing the MARVIN contract with Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.  No explanation was given and when asked about the prototype, a PRO spokesman merely commented that the droid was "being re-assigned."

Notes on Figures:

I didn't get who makes the droid figure from this campaign's new player.  I'll be sure to add it to future posts. 

The other figures are from Wizards of the Coast Star Wars Miniatures.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

PNWA 2010 Conference Review: Jump-Starting a Short Story by Bharti Kirchner

Since all my work can be considered "short" by way of word count, I decided to attend the Jump-Start a Short Story With These Techniques workshop, hosted by Bharti Kirchner.  She is the author of four novels, four cookbooks and numerous articles, all of which can be found on her website:

Ms. Kirchner is a pleasant and engaging speaker, who clearly understands the artistic differences between writing a short story and writing a novel, especially since she has experience in both forms.  One of the most discernible differences between these two from is in their word count.  Novels are tomes that can weigh-in anywhere from 25,000 to150,000 words. Translation:  That's about 100-600 pages for a hardcover.  Whereas the short story lightweights can range from 2.500 to 5,000 words, or 10-20 pages.

The common misconception is regarding the two is:  Writing less pages is easier.

Here are my notes from Ms. Kirchner's workshop explaining why "shorter" does not equate to "easier" and what you, the writer, can do to improve the effect of their short works.

First of all:  What is a short story?

Unlike a character sketch, it describes an incident that has a deep impact on a character.
Each sentence must have an impact and be economical--you don't have hundreds of pages to drone on and on about something.
You must create an emotional effect on the reader--and this is where most short story attempts fail.
Short stories are often described as "little earthquakes"--something small but intense.
The writer must create a sense of amazement.
Unlike all the plot twists in a novel, a short story's narrative goes in a straight line with a "little bump," or only one unexpected turn of events.
The short story starts near the end of an event and focuses on a character with a problem.
These problems can be:  A misunderstanding, a crime, some injustice or an accident.
Whatever it is that has happened, it must mean a lot to the character.

Despite the differences in word count, short stories and novels do share some commonalities.  These are:
There must be an internal change within the main character.
A change of awareness or mood is also necessary--from dark to light, or even from light to dark.
You want their readers to feel something emotionally.

What makes a short story work, that is, something emotionally satisfying for the reader, is that it is highly structured.
As mentioned previously, the story moves in a linear direction, but takes an unexpected turn towards the end.
The character realizes something and as a result changes, or at least looks at things different.
Limiting the story to one theme, or message works best for short stories.

With only 10-20 pages to describe the action, what is the best narrative time-span for a short story?  That is, how much time passes for the characters in the story?
Short stories don't have to have a limited time span.  The narrative can take place within an hour, a few hours, a day, a few days or even a week.
However, it is best if the subject matter is narrow and not discussing long-term issues like climate change.

With only 10-20 pages to work with, this doesn't leave a lot of room for multiple characters and their subplots.  For a short story, it is best to limit the number of characters to one main character and 1-2 secondary characters.

The basic elements of a short story are the same as with a novel, except--well--shorter:

Plot:  Events happen and the character takes action.  There must be a "cause & effect" element at work which carries the events forward.  These events cannot be random and must be connected.

Character:  The main character has something to gain or lose.  You must make readers care about the main character.  There must be conflict, or opposing forces, where the main character wants something, while someone/something else is trying to prevent it.  There must be a lot at stake:
  • What does the character want?
  • What motivates them?
  • What are they afraid of?
Dialogue:  Is the most important element in a short story, if it doesn't work, the story won't work.  Fictional dialogue is not the same as real dialogue.  That is, unnecessary words must be removed.  Dialogue must make a point, but not in a direct manner.  Remember, the writer needs to have that "bump" at the end of the story.  Characters can say or do things that are unexpected.  One can also describe a character through dialogue.

Point of View (POV):  Who's telling the story?  And where is the "camera?"  In order for the reader to answer these questions, it is best to stick to 1 POV--the person telling the story, by using simple 1st or 3rd Person POV.  One technique is to have a "narrator" introduce a story then "fade back" as one of the characters takes up the narrative.

Voice:  Use a style in which the narrator introduces himself and the story.  Use words like they're coming from a real person.

How to begin a short story:

As with a novel, the opening line and first few sentences are crucial.
Start the story as close to the major, transformative event as possible.
Establish a baseline on what the main character is like.  Choose the right and important details about the characters, but use only 1 or 2 facets.
The first paragraph tells the reader what kind of story this is going to be.

Methods of beginning a short story:

  1. Give a context summary.  That is "tell," before you "show."
  2. Set a scene.  Just the opposite of #1, that is "show," instead of "tell."
  3. Start with a dialogue.  Although if not done correctly, the reader will be confused as to who's talking.
  4. Start with an arrival.  Someone "comes to town."
  5. Start with the weather.  But one of the characters must be introduced very quickly.
  6. Show what the character desires.
  7. Give a journalistic run-down of--who, what, when and where.
  8. Start with an absent character.  And finally, you could--
  9. Write a letter.
Even with a short story, it is easy to get writer's block.  What to do if you get stuck?  Ms. Kirchner suggested the following:

Explore and discover what the character wants and why he can't have it.
Introduce another character opposite the main character.
Or, introduce another character that wants the same thing.
Think of the ending--then work back from there.
Write a sentence or two every day.

Whether you're writing a novel or a short story, I hope with these notes, you'll never get stuck!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Ted's Excellent October Gaming Extravaganza


Plus this:

Equals this:

The above gaming action took place on 1 October at the Game Matrix in Tacoma, WA.  The planets must have been in alignment this particular weekend.  Not only did I have an entire weekend off, but I didn't have any appointments, errands to run or chores ("domestic drudgery") to do.  This was the first day, in what turned out to be my one-man gaming convention. 

Day 1, Friday

The uneven tank battle pictured above was part of an Operation Cobra scenario developed by my friend Dean, using the rules Disposable Heroes/Coffins for Seven Brothers.  Dean is also the author of the popular WAB Corner blog.  You can scroll down to Operation Cobra, for a more detailed narrative of the game:

In this scenario, elements of the US 4th Armored Division were ordered to seize a French town to facilitate a breakout.  Three infantry squads were supported by a Sherman tank, a Stuart tank, one half track and a jeep.  The Germans, naturally were ordered to hold the town.  Three squads of Fallschirmjaegers were supported by a Pzkw-IV, a PSW-232 armored car and a Panther tank.

The game ended in somewhat of a draw with the German and American squads holding positions in the center of town.  The PSW-232 and Stuart were knocked out, while the Sherman played hide & seek with the Pzkw-IV and Panther. 

Day 2, Saturday:

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...etc., so on & so forth...

Several of us from the Puyallup Wargamers got together for a session of the Star Wars Role Playing Game (RPG).  Seth, our Game Master (GM), just started a Rebellion Era campaign.  (That is, it takes place in and around the time of the original 3 Star Wars Movies).  This was my first time attending Seth's new campaign and I was eager to introduce my character:  Maeriland Smith--Reference Librarian for the Rebellion!

Introducing our four heroes and their mission, (click on the picture once or twice for better readability):
The rebel operatives finally make it to the flight deck level of the Imperial base.

Recapturing the stolen X-Wing and getting the test pilot back into the cockpit.

Our heroes retrace their steps to rescue a Wookie captive.  With his last breath the Wookie gives the group an artifact containing Wookie hieroglyphics and asks that it be given to his brother Liackuk.  The rebels then set the base's reactor to overload, herd Imperial prisoners on board a shuttle and then zoom off into space before the reactor melts down.

But questions remain.  Who is Liackuk?  Where is he?  And what is so important about this hunk of plastic with Wookie scribbles on it?

To find out, stay tuned....

Day 3, Sunday:

The Axis Powers have been vanquished and two superpowers arise from the rubble of the Second World War:  The US (or "Capitalist Pigs"--played by me!) and the USSR (or the "Godless Commies"--played my friend Joe).  The two of us set out change the course of the Cold War in GMT's Twilight Struggle.

This political/military game recreates all the decisive and anxious moments that flared-up during these years.  (And some of us remember them very well!).  Each player seeks to influence, control and ultimately dominate strategic regions around the world--and even space.  Each turn in this Card Driven Game (CDG) represents 3-5 years, with card-play being used to determine if and when historical events occur.

We started off at 1945, with the Capitalist Pigs and Godless Commies eyeball-to-eyeball in Europe. 

(Note our original set up turned out to be incorrect.  The counters should be flipped to show "influence," not "control," over these countries.  We corrected this later in the game).

After several turns we started to get the feel of the game.  The Capitalist Pigs were trailing the Godless Commies for world domination.  So I decided to sweep through Southeast Asia to grab some much needed victory points.

Unfortunately, it was the proverbial "too little, too late." I failed to realize how critical Europe was perceived to be during the Cold War.  While I was building my Southeast Asian Alliance, the shadowy minions of the Godless Commies undermined the governments of eight European countries; thus dominating the continent and automatically winning the Twilight Struggle.

Well, despite losing the Cold War to the Godless Commies, I enjoyed gaming with all my friends on this early October weekend.  I just hope I don't have to wait for another planetary alignment before I can do this again.

I intend to produce more detailed After Action Reviews (AARs) on all these games, either in the form of YouTube videos or graphic novels----someday.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

PNWA 2010 Conference: Practical Guide to Punctuality

I've been attending PNWA's Summer Conference for a few years now, so I thought it was high time to help out.  Prior to the conference, I examined the list of workshops and submitted my name as a volunteer to moderate the seminars I planned on attending.  The Volunteer Coordinator, Anne Belen, assigned me to moderate the Practical Guide to Screenwriting, hosted by Colleen Patrick.

For me the word "practical" should have started with reading the moderator instructions.  I ASS-umed the workshop started at 9 AM and I planned my morning to be there at 8:45--plenty of time to set up the Emerald E Conference Room. 

Or so I thought.

When I sauntered in at 8:45, I found Ms Patrick already in the midst of giving her lecture and about two dozen attendees--and all of them were scribbling furiously.  Frantically going through the moderator packet, I discovered the seminar started at 8:30!

Oh crap!  (Which isn't exactly what I thought).

So I spent the next hour and 15 minutes hastily distributing handouts, directing attendees to vacant seats, monitoring the time and conducting general housekeeping duties.  This left me too frazzled to take any useful notes other than:  Read the instructions CARE-FUL-LY

Another item I found out after the seminar, was Colleen Patrick's contributions to the film industry.  She's a screenwriter, director, acting coach and writing coach, to list a few of her accomplishments.

For a more detailed look at Colleen Patrick's talents and accomplishments, check out her website at:

Hmm.  Maybe she can add "Punctuality Coach for Wayward Moderators" to her resume...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Redshift Chronicles: Shannekam Subsector Gazetteer, or "The Big Holograph"

(Click on images to enlarge)

Star map of the Shannekam Subsector
Current as of:  035-130 ABY

Bordering the coreward edge of the Gulf of Tatooine, Shannekam is centered in the Arkanis Sector and named after its most populated planet.  Of the 15 known systems comprising this subsector, only Bongolaan and Tatooine have been incorporated into the Fel Empire's Outer Rim.  While Emperor Roan Fel may wish to extend his interstellar ambitions further into this volume of space, he is most likely preoccupied with consolidating his position at this time.  Whether the fringe worlds of this subsector resist or acquiesce to any future advances by the Empire remains to be seen.

Beyond Imperial borders, the only coalition among the fringe worlds is the Merantis Agricultural Co-op (MERAGCO), which consist of the planets Mokar, Tarsus and Merantis; all within the Merantis Star Cluster.  Beyond piracy suppression, there is no political-military alliance among MERAGCO worlds.  However, this could change depending on how future relations with the Fel Empire unfold.  As of now, the Tarsan-Bongolaanian Trade Dispute is limited to these two warring planets.  This conflict is not expected to escalate beyond espionage, commerce raiding and sabotage operations.

Systems within the Shannekam Subsector:

1. Avastyn--an arid, poor, non-industrial planet with a Class C starport.

2. Mokar--a temperate, rich, agricultural and non-industrial planet with a Class B starport.

3. Banchu--an ice-capped planet with a Class C starport.

4. Tarsus--a temperate, agricultural and non-industrial planet with a Class B starport.

5. Merantis--a temperate, agricultural planet with a Class B starport.

6. Ku Crassus--an arid, industrial world with a Class B starport.  This world's climate is a result of a meteor storm that devastated the planet nearly 150 years ago. 

7. Zandamak--a temperate planet with a Class C starport.

8. Talchis--an arid, non-industrial planet with a Class C starport.

9. Gulnok--a temperate, non-industrial planet with a Class C starport.

10. Bowman--a sparsely populated asteroid belt with a Class D starport.

11. Bongolaan--a temperate, agricultural world; almost exclusively devoted to growing gabaki, has a Class B starport.

12. Tarknal--a temperate, rich, agricultural planet with a Class C starport.

13. Shanneka--a tropical, densly populated, non-agricultural planet with a Class A starport.

14. Tatooine--a desert world known throughout the galaxy as a "wretched hive of scum and villainy."  Despite the heavy trading of illicit goods, Tatooine's numerous starports are categorized as Class D.

15. Zenya--a tropical, non-industrial planet with a Class B starport.

Map Key:

1 hex = 1 parsec, or lightyear.

Large yellow circle: Non-aligned fringe world.

Large red circle:  Member world of the Fel Empire.

Half-moon symbol:  System-wide asteroid field.

Small brown circle:  Indicates the presence of a gas giant within the system.

Straight line (can be various colors):  Indicates the path of a hyperlane or hyperspace run and holo-net communication system.

Red lettering: Indicates a desert world.

Highlighted lettering:  Indicates a high population world of 1 billion inhabitants or more.

The Galactic Map:

The red circle on the map below illustrates where the Shannekam Subsector is located in relation to the rest of the galaxy.  (Not to scale).
(Image from:  Star Wars Insider: Issue #65)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Redshift Chronicles: News Brief #4, The Bantha-Gabaki Trade War

Stardate: Thirday, 032-130 ABY/Fringe Info Network (FIN)--Tarsus Bureau

Subsector: Shannekam

Bongolaan Declares a Trade War against Tarsus

Five days ago, the Bongolaanian Ministry of Intersellar Affairs declared a trade war to be in effect between the Peoples Democratic Republic of Bongolaan, the newest member-state of the Fel Empire, and the fringe world of Tarsus. 

All Tarsan-registered vessels will be considered pirate ships and will be pursued by forces protecting Bongolaanian interests. 

Following-up the Ministry of Intersellar Affairs, the Bongolaanian Ministry of Justice declared all Tarsan bantha-beef to be considered contraband.  Individuals transporting Tarsan foodstuffs will be apprehended and detained as smugglers.  The transportation of illegal goods is considered a major felony and convicted smugglers could face a 5,000 CR fine and/or 5 years incarceration for their first offense.

Non-Tarsan starships transporting enemy bantha-beef will be impounded until the sentence is fulfilled and fines are paid.

Bounties posted against known smugglers conducting operations against the People's Democratic Republic of Bongolaan will start at 7,000 CR.

In retaliation, the Tarsan Commission of Trade and Finance declared all Bongolaanian gabaki products to be contraband.  The penalties for importing Bongolaanian gabaki will be similar to those listed above.

The Bongolaanian declaration of trade warfare came as a result of the Tarsan plebiscite on 022-130 ABY, regarding Bongolaan's demands for reparations and the extradition of former President-for-Life Bharzi; along with any known associates.  Tarsus, a participatory democracy with 27,175,000 registered voters, decided the following issues:

1. Should Tarsus pay the 2,218,800 CR reparations demanded by Bongolaan?

An overwhelming 90% (24,457,500) voted no, while 8% (2,174,000) voted yes, with 2% (543,500) abstaining.

2. Should the former President-for-Life, Zeveg Bharzi, be extradited to Bongolaan?

A mere 55% (14,946,250) voted no, while 29% (7,780,750) voted yes, with 16% (4,348,000) abstaining.

3. Should any of Bharzi's associates and/or crew of the Aimless Drifter be extradited to Bongolaan?

A clear majority of 69% (18,750,750) voted no, while 19% (5,163,250) voted yes, with 22% (5,978500) abstaining.

Yesterday, the Tarsan Commission of Justice destroyed the 82 tons of Bongolaanian gabaki carried on board the Aimless Drifter

Before the gabaki fires burned themselves out, an anonymous source reported the Tarsan Commission of Intersellar Relations (CIR) was relieved to hear that Imperial forces will most likely not involve themselves in the Tarsan-Bongolaanian Trade Dispute.  Apparently the CIR received a terse communique from the Office of Valeska Hallard, Grand Moff of the Geonosis Subsector, stating:  

"While Bongolaan is now part of the Fel Empire, the Imperial Government does not concern itself with the affairs of individual planets--for the time being."

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween!

(Illustration by

Happy Halloween!

I've always considered Halloween a fun prelude to the Holiday Season. (A time to be a little naughty, before you have to be nice).

Here's the history of Halloween according to Wikipedia:

Monday, October 25, 2010

PNWA 2010 Conference: Drawn to Drawn Books

(Image:  Stinz Charger: The War Stories, by Donna Barr)

I was originally planning on attending a thriller/mystery panel hosted by several authors I’m acquainted with. However, the Eyes and Hands: An Introduction to Drawn Books workshop caught my eye.


Since I’ve produced YouTube movies and posted my first graphic novel, The Bushwhackers of Kashyyyk, I thought this workshop would be right up my alley. So I walked into the assigned room and met Donna Barr, the speaker and her assistant, Hedwig Vinson.

Then two other guys walked in for the class.

That was it.


When so few people show up for something like this, it can either be very good—or very bad.

Fortunately, this turned out to be not just good, but a fantastic experience.

We pulled our chairs into a tight circle and discussed some of the aspects of what Donna calls “drawn books.” She coined this term because she’s observed that using the more traditional terms of; comic books, commix, or even graphic novels, was still dismissed as “just for kids.” In fact, it was this perception that led to comic-book publishers into accepting the maturity rating system. This in turn, led to a discussion about censorship within the comic book industry--which she vehemently opposes.

When discussing the books themselves, Donna defined drawn books as “…being the perfect balance between writing and art” (from the workshop handout). At this point I became concerned because, when I think of "art," I tend to think of hand-drawn pictures or painting. So I asked about my work with photographing miniatures, in which I spent several minutes showing her and the rest of the class The Bushwhackers of Kashyyyk.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there’s an actual term for this form: It’s called Fumetti.  This is an Italian word meaning, literally, “little puffs of smoke,” referring to the speech balloons. In English this refers to what’s otherwise called photonovels or photographic comics:

Wow! Up until now I didn’t know there was an established art term for what I was tinkering around with. This was a revelation for me! I’ve spent the past several years trying to figure out what niche I fit into as a writer. Now I can say I'm a graphic novelist.

Donna Barr is best known for her two series: The Desert Peach and Stinz. The Desert Peach features the gay brother of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel; while Stinz is an historical fantasy about a centaur living in central Europe. Donna Barr’s website is:

Donna also suggested checking out the works of the following drawn book novelists:

Roberta Gregory:

Colin Upton:

Carla Speed McNeil:

Madison Clell:

Kevin Bose and Stasio Kato (The Virgin Project):

Diana Sasse: